And we're back! This chapter is a bit longer than usual, so maybe that will make up for it.
Find the full chapter list for The Man Who Made Monsters and links to related stories here.
“This is ridiculous,” Jo said, peering over Ainsley’s shoulder as he peered through the scope of his rifle. “First of all, the train is in the way.”
“We can still see some of the restaurant from here.”
“Yeah, and that’s the second bit. The broad’s gonna have to sit at one of those two tables-”
“I paid off the wait staff,” Ainsley said calmly, adjusting his sights.
“And even then, what’re you gonna do?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“Tom drew a sketch of her. We know what she looks like.”
“And so if something goes wrong, aren’t we more useful down there?”
Ainsley released his breath in a slow, long exhalation. “What do you propose we do if something goes wrong?”
“Beat her up,” Jo said promptly.
“That’s why we’re up here,” he replied.
“And we’ve got the stupid train in the way,” she repeated.
Carmen sighed deeply and handed her spotter’s scope to Jo. “Will this shut you up?”
Jo snatched it and hunkered down beside Ainsley with a gratified smile.
“Thank you.” Wes’ voice crackled lightly over the speaker. “Oh, crap. I forgot. Good morning, angels!”
“Shut up, Wes,” Tom and Angel called back in response. Carmen ignored the comment and instead insinuated herself into their ongoing game of Egyptian Ratscrew with a quick slap on double aces.
Lena’s voice came over the speaker then, a little quieter. “So when is the cop supposed to get here?”
“I don’t know. Not really on a set schedule here.”
“Ouch!” Tom snatched his hand back, along with a small stack of cards, and pointed accusingly at the two women looking back at him with innocent smiles. “Rings off, now.”
“You didn’t say baby rules,” Angel said.
“If you don’t call baby rules in the beginning, rings are in play,” Wes said solemnly.
“Can we please focus?” Ainsley growled.
“Is that her?” Jo asked, peering through the scope at the pub’s windows.
Ainsley searched until he saw the waitress seating a woman at one of the booths near those windows. The woman glanced briefly out the window, and he got a look at a lovely, serious face framed by reddish hair.
“I’m going in,” Wes said.
Wes watched her settle into her seat. He had kept to a quiet corner blocked by most of the customers in the early lunch rush, but once she settled, he stood up, picked up his glass, and invited himself into the seat across from her without a word.
She didn’t look startled. She didn’t so much as blink. She only quirked a brow and leaned back into the leather of the booth, tapping a finger against the scarred wood tabletop. “I figured it’d be another few days before I saw you again.”
Wes shrugged. “You figured wrong.”
“Apparently so. Not that I’m complaining. I recommend their fish and chips, by the way.”
“I’m not wild about fish,” he said. “Your people okay?”
She nodded. “Yeah, we're all good. Burn had a migraine until about noon the day after and Merlin got a stern lecture from his wife, his uncle, and his brother-in-law, but he was right as rain by the next day. Some of them are a little squicked out by what they're finding in the autopsy of that thing, though."
Wes leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “Anything interesting?”
"It's a hybrid of shit," she said, lowering her voice. "Stuff we've seen before and--well, one of my docs is saying that it's like it's some kind of genetic chimera. But with supernatural tendencies, if that makes any sense."
They both went quiet when the waitress came over to the table for their drink order. “Whiskey, neat, and a glass of ice water,” Brigid said.
When the waitress looked at Wes, he gave her a sunny smile. “I’ll have the same, thanks. But extra ice in the water.”
Wes waited until she walked away. “The world is full of weird shit. I’d be surprised if we didn’t have Dr. Frankensteins running about, making hybrid monsters.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t had much experience with them. Not around here anyway.”
Wes shrugged, absently playing piano songs on the tabletop with one hand. “I haven’t either. But there’s a first time for everything.”
The waitress set their drink order in front of them and slipped away again, murmuring something vague about being back for their lunch order. When she was gone, Wes tilted his head and said, “I really don’t know how much more I can help you on that subject. I know less than you did. I didn’t even get to dissect the thing.”
Brigid smiled wryly. “Well, if you answer a particular question for me, I might let you see the notes. Hell, maybe I’ll make a copy for you.”
Wes arched a brow. “What sort of question?”
“Well, I’ll just ask flat-out. Why the hell was my boss so damned relieved that I’d let you go?”
“That is an excellent question,” Wes said, and he took a sip of whiskey to give himself time to think it over. “If I had to guess, I’d say it’s one of two things. Either he’s afraid of annoying my dad, or he wants to make friends with me because he can’t make friends with my dad.”
Brigid arched a brow. “You know that begs more questions, right?”
“Yeah, but you said I only had to answer that question,” he replied cheekily.
“I know.” She took a slow sip from her glass, eyes sliding shut for a moment as she savored it. He knew she was pulling the same trick, taking time to think. “Tell me why you thought I might be a Hunter.”
Another question, but turned into a statement, he thought. But it amused him, so he let it go. “Because my friends couldn’t sense you, and we haven’t really encountered that sort of thing outside of Hunters.”
Brigid nodded. “I’d wondered if that was it. Our files on your...people...are pretty slim, but I’m led to believe that’s a good reason.”
“My people aren’t too keen on yours,” Wes said bluntly, and then a little more playfully, he added, “You’re a bunch of upstarts playing hero against forces you can’t understand.”
Brigid took it seriously, and said, “Only some of us, though I’ll admit to the organization being young and some of us learning as we go along. Though I was led to believe our understanding was more along the lines of staying out of each other’s way.”
Wes grinned. “Yeah, but my sort are assholes. They’re still gonna make fun of you while they stay out of your way.”
Wes sipped his whiskey, and casually asked, “So do you do that kind of thing often? Run after monsters when you don’t know what they are?”
“Usually we figure out pretty fast what we’re dealing with, actually. Three quarters of the time we already know before we go in.”
“And the other quarter of the time?”
She sighed and sipped her whiskey. “We figure it out as we go along.”
She shrugged. “Living is dangerous.”
“Yeah, but you’re chasing danger.”
“It’s not more dangerous than what any of us were doing in the service, to be honest.”
Uh-huh. Wes arched a brow.
Brigid smiled wryly. “Come on. You can’t tell me you didn’t make me for military.”
“No, I did, but I don’t recall the military fighting monsters and demons. Unless you were doing secret stuff then, too.”
“I wasn’t, not that that I was aware of. This said, Merlin got abducted by aliens right out of the cockpit of his fighter while we were both active duty.”
Wes snorted. “Aliens?”
That wry smile again. “Monsters and demons?”
Touché. Wes wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, okay.”
The amusement was gone suddenly, and for a moment she was far away. “I wish it wasn’t true.”
“He seems to have survived it.”
“Him and Mat O’Brien both, though my partner’s sanity has been a touch and go thing. He’s better than he used to be.”
“Well, he did tell you to let me go. I feel that’s a sign of sanity.”
Brigid choked on a laugh and a mouthful of whiskey.
“Careful,” Wes said, grinning.
“Right,” she said, grinning back.
Their waitress seemed to have picked up on their desire to keep their conversation private. She approached cautiously to take their order, and Wes flashed her his most golden smile to put her at ease. It almost seemed to work. Her return smile was tentative, but it was a smile. “What do you like here?” Wes asked.
“The patty melt is excellent,” she suggested.
“I will have that,” Wes said. “And extra fries. And coleslaw, if you have it.”
The waitress nodded and looked to Brigid.
“House burger, medium rare,” Brigid said simply.
The waitress nodded and departed.
Maybe Ainsley freaked her out, Wes thought, and so he tried to put all the blame on Brigid. “She seems nervous.”
“She’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” Brigid smiled faintly.
That seems like a lie. Interesting. Wes decided not to hide the fact that he knew it was a lie, and arched a brow, peering at her closely.
“What?” She sounded perfectly innocent, which Wes found telling.
“You said that in a weird way.”
“I usually eat alone or with Tim.”
“So you’re saying she’s scared of you.”
Brigid shrugged and took a sip of whiskey.
“You’re not very scary.”
“But it was your choice of words. ‘Don’t worry about it.’ That sounds like you’re trying to divert me.”
“Just reassure you.”
“A likely story.”
She shrugged again.
Wes enjoyed this sort of thing. He could learn all about a person by needling them just so until they showed him a tell. But this one was clever. He suspected she was needling him right back. “You’re not scary,” he said, “But you are weird.”
“Right back at you.”
Wes drew himself up. “Oh, I’m scary. I just haven’t been trying that hard.”
She laughed, and said, “Duly noted.”
Wes decided it was time to switch subjects quickly and see if he could unbalance her. “How do you have the powers you have?”
“You mean the fact that psychics can’t sense me, let alone read me?”
Questions for time, like sipping whiskey. “Yeah. That thing.”
"To be honest, I don't know. We figured it out when I was serving aboard the Daedalus and Jade McCullough made an entire flight deck forget they saw something--except for me."
“That must have sucked for her.”
“Actually, it turned out okay. She married the guy she healed on deck and I covered the whole thing up because I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You’ll find that terminology applies rather often, actually.”
Wes smiled and finished his whiskey before switching to the water. “Not surprising."
"I imagine it's the same with your people."
“Nah. We’re all pretty used to what we can do."
Brigid chuckled dryly. "Well, when an organization is as old as yours is...."
“You run out of surprises. Or at least you start running low."
Brigid nodded. "To my knowledge, I'm the only one in the organization with my sort of abilities."
Wes frowned. That’s either a line of bull or she’s trying to show she trusts me with that sort of information. But he didn’t pursue it further, and asked, “Well… was there anything else you wanted to ask me?"
Brigid stared at him for a moment, inscrutable, and then she sighed. "I wanted to thank you again."
Wes shrugged. “It wasn’t out of my way."
"Well, you still deserve my thanks. Merlin means a lot to more than just me and you killed that thing before it could kill him."
“That’s not his real name, right? Because that would be awfully mean of his parents.”
"No. No, it was his callsign with the Air Force. It kind of stuck."
“Good. Otherwise, I’d be sad for him.”
"His name is Tim. Tim McConaway."
“That’s a much more normal name."
"The professor who sent you here--at least I assume you talked to her--is his twin sister, Alisa."
“I guessed from the last name.”
Brigid smiled wryly. "Tim's wife is also rather grateful that you dealt with that thing."
“I should hope so.”
The smile turned to a grin. "Well, you caught her on a good day."
“No, I mean it would be a bummer if she wasn’t happy about him surviving."
Brigid snorted. "Not even on their worst days before they got married. But it seems you've got me at a disadvantage. Sounds like you know something about my organization."
Wes smiled mildly. “You know some stuff about my kind.”
"Just a little. I haven't gotten to pick Bryn Knight's brain yet and I'm thinking she'll be able to give me more insights, given what Kate's already mentioned."
Wes tilted his head. “And Jim told you nothing?” Why wouldn’t he tell you anything?
"Jim said enough to make me do research."
Wes knew at once that his question had been answered. Jim wasn’t trying to avoid annoying Braedon. He was trying to get to Wes. There’s probably some bullshit psychology about how lucky it is she’s pretty and she’s got hair kind of like my mom’s and if he tosses her at me, I won’t be able to help but humor her. He realized that he was happily humoring her and wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or snort. “Gave you homework.”
The waitress approached again, cautious as before, and set plates in front of them. Brigid shot her a warm smile and thanked her for the food she’d just brought to them, unrolling her napkin from around her silverware.
Wes flashed her another golden smile and spared only a moment to put his napkin primly in his lap before he dug in. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast, which was entirely too long to go without food.
Brigid quirked a brow, watching Wes as the waitress staged a hasty retreat. “You eat like you’ve been in prison and I’m going to guess that you haven’t actually been in that kind of situation, given your background.” She cut her burger in half and checked to make sure it was done to her liking before starting in on her own meal.
Wes paused just long enough to say, “Well, there was this one time down in South America when I got into a bit of trouble. They only fed me once a day. It was…I can’t.”
“What makes me think that you’ve got a ton of stories that you could tell me and only about half of them are true?”
Tom appeared as if from thin air to shove was unceremoniously further into the booth and snatch a handful of fries. “That story is completely true. That’s where I got that stupid lizard tattoo.”
Wes wrinkled his nose. “Hey! Get your own damn fries.”
“Stolen fries are better,” Tom said, smiling brightly, and he reached his free hand across the table to Brigid. “You must be the cop. I’m Tom.”
“Brigid, and I’m not a cop.” She glanced toward Wes. “I see you brought friends. I say friends because I’m going to lay pretty strong odds on him not being the only one.” She leaned back, smirking. “And here I am, all by my lonesome. Seems you’ve got me at a disadvantage.”
Wes waggled his brows at her. “Oh do I?”
Tom elbowed him in the ribs. “No. You’ve got a girlfriend. Don’t hit on the cop lady.”
“She asked for it. Making weird suggestive comments. I can’t not make weirder ones.”
Brigid shrugged, reaching for her glass of whiskey. “My comment was perfectly innocent. Just commentary on the current state of affairs. You do have me at a bit of a tactical disadvantage, considering I don’t have any backup in the immediate vicinity.”
Tom tilted his head toward Wes. “I think she’s saying that backup could be here quickly if we decided to kidnap her or something.”
“And even if we did decide to kidnap her or something, how would we do it? Kind of a public place. No one’s at a disadvantage here. Everyone is advantageless.”
She plucked a french fry off her plate and considered it for a moment. “So you’re saying that Miller’s Pub is neutral ground.”
Wes reached for his fork but Tom made it there first, snatching up the coleslaw as well. “All public places are neutral,” he said, carefully ignoring Wes’ sour look. “Part of the deal is that we don’t make a lot of noise and attract the attention of people who aren’t up to dealing with the fact of… well, you know. The sort of things we deal with.”
Wes sighed, eyeing his stolen coleslaw. “Asshole,” he muttered in Tom’s direction before turning his attention back to Brigid. “And anyway, why would we do anything nasty to you now that we know who you are? Frankly, we’ve got more to be worried about from your end of things. You absolutely have us, and especially me at a disadvantage.”
“How do you figure that?”
“One phone call to my dad pretty much ruins the good thing I’ve got going here,” Wes said. It was a risky move, he knew, but he hoped it would work. He was almost sure that she was here to make nice with him.
“I don’t know your father,” she said, starting in on her french fries. “I could really care less at this point who he is or about ruining whatever the hell it is you’ve got going here. You held up your end of the bargain we struck down there and you saved my partner’s life. At this point, I’m willing to take it on faith that you’re one of the good guys.” She smiled wryly. “I just hope that you’re willing to look at us the same way.”
Wes studied her for a long moment, and then he glanced sideways at Tom. Tom shrugged. Finally, Wes said, “He really didn’t tell you anything, did he?”
“Yeah,” Wes said.
Tom said suddenly, “We should take her out on patrol with us.”
Wes blinked. “What?”
“Yeah,” Tom said, snatching another handful of fries. “She seems nice.”
“I don’t really see how that’s a reason to take her out on patrol,” Wes said, moving his remaining fries as far from Tom as he could manage.
Tom looked to Brigid again.
“Well, this boss of yours didn’t warn you off, did he?”
She shook her head. “No. He just told me to be careful, which isn’t anything new.”
“Which means Braedon clearly hasn’t put him off Hunters forever. It can’t hurt to make new friends, especially ones your dad won’t approve of.” Then he paused, considering Brigid. “Well, he would probably approve of her.”
It was Wes’s turn to elbow Tom in the ribs. “Gross, dude.” Then he quickly looked back to Brigid. “For you. Not for my dad. Gross for you.”
She snorted, looking amused. “Should I ask?”
“No,” Wes said, elbowing Tom one more time for good measure. “I guess we could take her out. I mean, but it’s just walking around looking for trouble.”
“Gee. Sounds like a normal Saturday night.” Brigid watched them as she picked at her fries.
“Yeah, but you could keep chatting. Learning about each other.” Tom smiled, opening his arms expansively. “We’re all gonna have to work together or around each other someday. We might as well start sooner rather than later.”
I’m not the General yet, Wes thought, but if it started looking too risky, they could just go with Ainsley’s plan. Just pack up and leave. So he shrugged, and said, “Yeah, fine.”
“Lovely.” Brigid pointed to her plate. “Are you guys going to let me finish eating first?”
Tom grinned mildly. “We patrol when it gets darker. We’re really not supposed to do it. This isn’t Wes’ dad’s territory. But we just… try not to get into too much trouble. Low profile, and all that. Though I suppose being with a cop legitimizes the whole thing somehow.”
“Yeah. We can just say we’re with her.” Wes grinned. “Honorary cops or something.”
She looked like she might laugh as she picked up half of her burger. “I’m not a cop, guys.”
Tom waved a hand. “You’re close enough.”
“If you say so. Should I bring a friend, or just me?”
Wes smiled mildly. “You should bring the guy who was nicer to me.”
“Merlin? The one with the sword?”
“Yeah. He was nice.” Wes grinned then. “You don’t have to worry. Bring someone if you’re nervous. But you don’t have to be.”
“It’s not about being nervous, it’s about being useful.” She grinned. “He and I work well as a team.”
Wes shrugged. “It’s up to you. We probably won’t run into any trouble.”
“That’s part of the problem of keeping a low profile. We only get into trouble sometimes,” Tom said.
“I’ll bring him anyway. That way he can thank you properly.”
Wes wrinkled his nose. “People need to quit doing that. There was a monster and it needed killing and so I helped kill it.”
“Before it could suck every ounce of magic and life out of him through the sword in his hands.” Brigid drained her glass. “Trust me, I may not be able to do it myself, but I know what that sort of shit looks like and he was in a bad way. Don’t get angry at us for being grateful.”
“I’m not angry. It’s just…” He shrugged. “It’s too much.”
“Get used to it. We’re not afraid to say thank you when it’s deserved.”
Tom elbowed Wes again and said, “He’s hoarding food. He’s a greedy asshole. Thanks are no longer required.”
Wes rolled his eyes. “Get your own damn fries!”
Brigid just laughed and shoved her plate toward them. “Just tell me where we should meet you and what what time we should be there.”
Wes considered, and then shrugged. “Here around eight? No, better make it nine, unless you want to eat here again.”
“Nine’s fine. Gives me time to get the kids settled before I come back downtown.”
“Excellent,” Tom said, reaching over Wes to steal the last few fries.
Onward and upward to Chapter 15.